Intelligence is suggested to have evolved in primates in response to complexities in the environment faced by their ancestors. Corvids, a large-brained group of birds, have been suggested to have undergone a convergent evolution of intelligence [Emery & Clayton (2004) Science, Vol. 306, pp. 1903–1907]. Here we review evidence for the proposal from both ultimate and proximate perspectives. While we show that many of the proposed hypotheses for the evolutionary origin of great ape intelligence also apply to corvids, further study is needed to reveal the selective pressures that resulted in the evolution of intelligent behaviour in both corvids and apes. For comparative proximate analyses we emphasize the need to be explicit about the level of analysis to reveal the type of convergence that has taken place. Although there is evidence that corvids and apes solve social and physical problems with similar speed and flexibility, there is a great deal more to be learned about the representations and algorithms underpinning these computations in both groups. We discuss recent comparative work that has addressed proximate questions at this level, and suggest directions for future research.